How to Develop an EPPP Study Schedule (and other advice after a two-time fail)

Dr. Graham Taylor answers your EPPP questions.
Dr. Graham Taylor is available to answer your EPPP questions

Dr. Graham Taylor often has the opportunity to interact with people in EPPP discussion groups and online forums. He is also available to answer your EPPP questions which you can ask on our comments page.

Last year Dr. Taylor interacted with a person (who we will call Lexi) who had failed her EPPP twice. Lexi was asking advice as she prepared to study for a third try. Below is the answer Dr. Taylor gave Lexi, in which he emphasized the importance of creating an EPPP study schedule and using research-based methodologies of memory and learning.

Dear Lexi,

That is a difficult position to be in. I really feel for you! As you seek to take the EPPP for a third time, I’d like to share some things that have helped others who have found themselves in a similar position.

Believe in Yourself!

First, as you prepare to take the EPPP for the third time, you may be tempted to doubt your ability, or to believe the myth that says “I’m just born with a bad memory.” The reason that such thoughts should be avoided is not simply that they lead to discouragement and demobilize us, but that they are actually false. Recent cognitive research has shown that the notion of some people being born with better memories is false. (I have summarized some of this research in my blog post ‘The Myth of the Good Memory: how memory is a skill not a gift.’). In short, our ability to remember things is almost entirely a result of the techniques we use and has very little to do with innate ability. So take heart and don’t doubt yourself.

Use Research-Based Methodologies of Memory and Learning

Secondly, and building on my first observation, I would encourage you to assess what study strategies you are currently using. Many students work on the assumption that their ability to remember crucial material is related to how much time they spend studying combined with how hard they study. But actually, there is a growing body of research showing that studying harder is often less effective than less study done in a deliberate and strategic way. Studying in a strategic way would include finding techniques that work for you among the various time-tested theories of memory and learning, such as

  • Elaborative Encoding
  • Elaborative rehearsal
  • Method of Loci (memory palace)
  • Clustering/Chunking
  • Interference Theory
  • Spaced Learning and Repetition
  • Mind-Mapping
  • Primacy/Recency Theory
  • Blocks of Time Principle
  • Neuro-Transmitter Depletion Avoidance
  • Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis
  • State-Dependent Learning Opportunities
  • Mnemonics
  • Listening While Reading
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Eliminating Distractions
  • Note-Taking by Hand
  • Finding Your Learning Style (Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic)


Create an EPPP Study Schedule

Thirdly, be proactive and deliberate in creating an effective EPPP study schedule. If you try to just study whenever life allows you to, without a clear schedule and plan, the chances are you will constantly be alternating between exhaustion and frustration. Because everyone’s life is different, no two person’s study schedule will look the same. But there are some general principles that can guide us in creating a study schedule. One principle is that little and often is preferable to long periods of concentrated study. This is called the “Spacing Effect” and has a lot of research to back it up. Of course, everyone needs to make their study fit their schedule, but in general we should keep in mind that research shows that spreading out your study generates a greater likelihood for effective learning then trying to do it all at once.

In an earlier article I explained the principle of spaced learning by comparing it to watering a plant. Imagine there is a plant you’re taking care of for a month, but you only have one gallon of water. Would it be more effective to use up the entire gallon of water at the beginning to give the plant a big drenching, or what it be better to water the plant little and often throughout the entire month? Obviously the second would be preferable. The human brain is like that plant. Just as spaced watering, interspersed with periods of dryness, is the most effective watering strategy, so spaced learning is the most effective strategy for cementing long-term memories in the brain.

Another principle that should guide your EPPP study schedule is something called the Principle of Neurotransmitter Depletion. I have explained about this in my blog post on the EPPP study break, but in general what it means is that your study schedule should include within it regular structured breaks to prevent mental fatigue.

Remove Distractions

Fourth, assess the circumstances of your life with the aim of removing – at least as much as possible – anything that might be distracting you from your EPPP study.

I realize that for many of us, it is not always possible to escape from the myriad obligations and stimuli that distract us from studying, whether employment, family, commitments, etc. But what each of us can do is at least to remove distractions during our times of study by finding somewhere quiet.

Finding a quiet and distraction-free place to study could include a local library, a coffee shop, or even just sitting alone in your car. Turn off your i-phone, and if you are studying at your computer make sure all social media and email is turned off. (I’ve shared some observations about turning off distractions in my earlier post ‘Skills For Online Learning that No One is Teaching‘.)Even when secluded by yourself to study, you may still have to contend with a myriad of mental distractions. For example, as you are going through your EPPP preparation materials, you may suddenly remember something you needed to do, or something you don’t want to forget. That is why I recommend that people who are studying keep a pad of paper on hand. As things to do come to mind, write them down on the paper and then forget about it and return immediately to your studies. The act of committing a thought to paper is enormously helpful in freeing the brain to no longer feel the need to hold onto that.

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I am hoping that the above advice proves helpful to you as you prepare to take the EPPP for the third time. If you have any questions about any of these aspects, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Yours,

Graham Taylor

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